SEO vs. SEM Debate: Which One Is Better and Why?

SEO vs. SEM Debate: Which One Is Better and Why?

With everything going digital, businesses have had to incorporate marketing strategies like search optimization into their plans to grow their brands and drive website traffic. Search optimization is an excellent way to raise awareness about your products or services, but it can be counterproductive if you don’t understand the SEO Vs. SEM Debate.

SEO and SEM sound similar but are actually distinct search optimization tactics. Understanding what each one means and how it affects your business can help you create a better strategy to build your company’s online visibility. This post reviews this distinction.

What Is Search Marketing?

Search marketing is an entirely online marketing strategy through which a business builds brand awareness by appearing on search engine result pages (SERPs). The concept is divided into two major categories: SEO and SEM, which differ in the type of strategy they offer businesses to appear on SERPs.

What Are SEO and SEM?


SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a search marketing tactic that uses organic strategies to build a website’s visibility on search engines. It involves activities like link building or keyword use that raise the ranking of a website on SERPs. With this approach, a business need not pay for higher rankings but must employ several tactics to promote their content as authoritative and useful. The search engines will then show such content higher on SERPs.


SEM or Search Engine Marketing involves paying search engines to rank your content higher on SERPs and increase your traffic, usually through pay-per-click. As a strategy which is sometimes called pay-per-click (PPC) marketing or paid search, it involves an ad placement budget.

Generally, a company creates content surrounding valid industry keywords and pays search engines to rank them high. If a user searches these keywords, the content appears at the very top of SERPs. The search engine then charges the company for every click.

Which One Is Better for E-commerce?

As you can see, both SEM and SEO are valid approaches to search marketing. However, they each have their benefits and drawbacks, making the best answer to this question ‘it depends.’ The following is a review of the benefits you can gain from each:

Why Is SEO Better?

SEO can be good for your business because:

  • It doesn’t require much effort to obtain significant results because company websites tend to have poor SEO.
  • Over time, the cost per click on your website will cost very little compared to using SEM. In fact, SEO is arguably way less expensive than an SEM strategy.
  • If you do use any resources, the cost will be one-time, but the benefits will last as long as your content remains online.
  • The success offered by an SEO campaign can take longer to achieve but will give your company an authoritative mantle that cannot be easily replicated. As a result, users will turn to you for answers.
  • Some users can identify organic results from paid ads and prefer the former as they consider them more credible.

Why Is SEM Better?

SEM can be an excellent marketing strategy because:

  • SEM results don’t change, and your rankings will remain so as long as the campaign is active. This is unlike SEO rankings which can change when search engines alter their algorithms.
  • SEM results are immediate and don’t take months to realize like SEO.
  • An SEM campaign strategy gives you more autonomy over your content and how users interact with it, and your brand name.
  • Because SEM costs are exact, you can factor them into your financial plan and measure their return on investment (ROI).
  • According to many e-commerce businesses, SEM traffic converts better than SEO traffic.

So Which One and Why?

From the reviews above, you can see that both SEM and SEO have benefits and drawbacks. This means that an effective marketing strategy cannot overlook either tactic. That said, you should keep the following in mind:

  • SEO success takes some time to become a reality, unlike SEM, which yields almost immediate traffic. If your website is fairly new, consider dedicating 90 percent of your marketing budget to SEM and the other 10 to generating organic traffic (SEO).
  • Over time, as your SEO strategy starts yielding results, you can cut back some of your SEM funding and redirect it toward SEO. The goal is to get to a 50-50 allocation formula.
  • If you need to promote a product or service immediately, your SEM campaign is the best bet.

Final Thoughts

The SEO Vs. SEM Debate is a valid one because both strategies are effective search marketing tactics. SEM campaigns bear immediate fruits initially, but the overall costs can become a burden if the ROI is low. On the other hand, SEO campaigns are relatively affordable but take longer to produce results, which can change when search engines alter their algorithms. Your best bet is to incorporate both tactics into your marketing strategy and adjust their budget allocations as you see fit.